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Biography of Sr Therese of Jesus

1839-1918

 

 

 

Daughter of a prince

 

sign Therese de Jesus

 

 

 Therese de Jesus

Therese de Jesus large

Another Saint Thérèse

After God, it’s partly due to Sister Thérèse of Jesus that the Christian world owes today the invocation of “Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.” As Thérèse told us herself in her Story of a Soul how one morning in October 1882, shortly after Pauline’s entrance in Carmel that she was thinking of her future Carmelite name. “I knew there was a Sister Thérèse of Jesus, however my beautiful name of Thérèse couldn’t be taken from me (Ms. A, 31 r°).” She isn’t even ten years old but already her heart belongs to “little Jesus”. The desire to be called “Thérèse of the Child Jesus”. And that’s exactly the name that Mother Marie de Gonzague proposed to the community at the next parlor; this name she really received at her entrance on April 9th, 1988, the name the Church chose to invoke her. Without the “contemporary” we are meeting today, perhaps we would have had a second “great and Saint Teresa of Jesus” (CG II, 1097) as Mother Marie de Gonzague wrote. But no confusion possible now. The Christian people would continue for a long time to distinguish between “the great Teresa”, of Avila, and the “little Thérèse” of Lisieux. But let’s return to the Carmelite of Lisieux , age 43 in 1881, who was called Thérèse of Jesus.

 

Daughter of a prince

Once upon a time there was a naive little Briton girl, 18 years old, Julienne-Marie Chevrier. Born in Laillé, Ile et Vilaine (April 20th, 1821), she lived in Rennes with her widowed mother. A prince charming came to woo her. They loved each other and married on June 6th, 1839. Two months later on August 6th, 1839 our heroine, Léonie-Anastasie, was born.

Who was this handsome prince?... Erasme, 25 years, with an imposing presence undoubtedly, was a student in medicine. Born of a Polish father (Adam Jezewski) and a mother of German descent (Anastasie Herman) in Bratalow, in Volhinie the marriage certificate said; a province annexed then by Russia. He was a son of princes or at least nobles. He was around fifteen years old when his family took refuge in France. They lived rather poorly there and certain members of his family were merchants at fairs.

Erasme and Julienne had the following for witnesses to their marriage: on one hand, two medical students, on the other Joseph Piel, butcher maternal uncle of Julienne and a locksmith. Were the young spouses happy? History doesn’t say anything. Did they have lots of children? Until now no trace has been found of brothers and sisters of Léonie. Mme Jezewska died at age twenty five. The little girl who was only seven, was taken by her grandmother Chevrier (born Anne-Marie Baussant). The orphin was very attached to her grandmother whom she didn’t leave until after her death. Léonie was then 33 years old. We don’t know anything of her youth.

 

In Carmel

Mlle Jezewska, now alone, presented herself to the Carmel of Rennes. Since the exodus of September 1870, this monastery kept close ties with that of Lisieux (it had received Sister Fébronie for several months. It directed the candidate to the Lisieux Carmel. The superior and the prioress, M. Delatroëtte and Mother Marie de Gonzague, were new in their respective duties. They admitted without difficult the postulant who had a good statue if lacking in physical beauty (photos reveal masculine facial features and without a doubt exotropic strabismus). She entered on May 6th, 1873, two days before the profession of Sisters Saint John the Baptist and Aimée of Jesus. A postulant joins her in the novitiate two months later, Sister Marguerite-Marie. During this springtime 1873, a baby of four or five months is beginning to take interest in life at Semallé, at the farm of “Little Rose”...

Sister Thérèse of Jesus of the Heart of Mary (Léonie Jezewska) received the habit the 15th of October, 1873 from the hands of the superior. The sermon was given by Father Rohée, then priest of Vaucelles in Caen.

Thanks to a slight extension of the novitiate of the elder, the two postulants of 1873 found themselves twins in profession on March 18th, 1875. Thérèse of Jesus and Marguerite-Marie received the black veil on April 6th. Canon Delatroëtte presided over the ceremony on Tuesday of Easter octave. Father Hodierne, priest of Crépon and spiritual director of Marguerite-Marie, gave the homily. 1875 is a holy year. The chaplain, Father Youf gave the Community “very good sermons during the month of Mary so that it would earn the precious indulgence (of the grand jubilee).”

With the entrance of Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine on May 1st, 1875, it was five postulants in three and a half years who came to reinforce the headcount.

We know very little about the jobs Sister Thérèse of Jesus had. In 1893 she assisted Sister Saint John the Baptist with the linens. Sister Marie of the Angels described her as “nailed to the cross because of her poor eyes that often refused her their service, something of great sacrifice for this soul who loved work, the making of scapulars of the Sacred Heart.” Nevertheless, she exhibited a character that was merry and amiable” (CG II, 1174). But not for all. Thus Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, a good heart if there was one, noted sadly in May 1903: “What Msgr.[Amette] said to me hurts me a little when I think of it; that the sisters who displease me are perhaps more agreeable to God than me. Like this I imagine a Sister Thérèse of Jesus and others more loved than me by the good God and that thought makes me so sad that it removes all enthusiasm and all courage” (note to Mother Agnès of Jesus). Ah! This devil of comparison!...

 

With Thérèse

With so little coddling in childhood, without a real family life, also with facial features that were rather unattractive, what could Sister Thérèse feel faced with a little Thérèse Martin, coddled, pretty like an angel? “Jealousy,” replied Mother Agnès and Marie of the Sacred Heart. Thérèse’s beauty? “She has nothing special,” declared the elder (see The fox and the grapes). Her talents for painting? She put them to use as of 1890, sometimes choosing subjects that were “really bizarre and in bad taste...for example a lion surrounded by flowers and birds” (NPPA/AJ). “Is it necessary to make her do that?” inquired Thérèse then on retreat for profession (LT 114). “In 1897, the last year of her life, Sister Thérèse painted little works for this sister. It’s the last time she used her paintbrushes.” (PA, 1 77). It is June (according to the NPPA): Thérèse began to write her manuscript C and its unforgettable pages on fraternal charity. One more time she lives what she is writing.

Documents are silent on the last years of Sister Thérèse of Jesus in the monastery until her departure in1909 under the leadership of Mother Marie-Angel. Where was she received at seventy years of age? Same brevity in the Book of Professions about her death: “Died outside the monastery on October 31, 1918,” with no indication of the place.

Much remains for us to learn in paradise about this sister...One thing is certain. She will be “happy and amiable” with everyone in that admirable Communion of Saints where we will be “proud of each other” without the least jealousy...like a mother is proud of her children” (Yellow Notebook 1 1.7.4).

 

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